In case you were wondering, yes, Tony Vitello take advantage of Omaha.
It was pretty clear during a College World Series photoshoot on Thursday, when the spirited Tennessee baseball coach hit an imaginary home run and celebrated with a bump to his chest before wearing the famous “Daddy” hat from Flights. Tournament social media folks grabbed this gem if you missed it.
Shortly after, on a Zoom call with reporters, he marveled at his large hotel suite – “that condo they gave me.”
“They must have thought I was Peyton Manning himself or someone else. Like, you see my beautiful piece of art that I have right here, ”said Vitello, turning his screen to present a painting on the wall. “I hope you will be impressed by this.”
The best salespeople, you don’t even know they’re selling you anything. You are too busy enjoying the conversation and the company.
Such a personality is a rare gift that few have.
But Vitello does.
It also doesn’t take long to notice it, to understand why he was considered one of the best recruiters in the country when Tennessee hired him in 2017. He was brought to Knoxville to do exactly what he has – inspire a lifeless program that hadn’t gained much in about a decade.
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CWS DIMENSIONS:Vanderbilt favored over Texas, Tennessee – but not by much
In only its third full season, Vitello has Tennessee back to Omaha for the first time since 2005. These Flights aren’t just for fun. They are serious contenders. They’ve won 50 games and earned a national No.3 seed, one more spot than defending champion Vanderbilt, who will be on the other side of the fork.
“When we played them,” Commodores coach Tim Corbin said this Flight Week: “I think I mentioned to (my) coaches how ‘it’s going to end up being an Omaha team.’ You might just feel it. They were very aggressive, tenacious. … They deserve to be there. They are good.”
Vitello has heard the praise from Corbin. He said it meant a lot to him. He also said: “I would have liked him to come and tell me that on Sunday (after the game). Maybe I would have been in a better mood because we lost this series.
Just a perfect answer. Polished. Respectful. And yet, making a subtle point: Kind words are appreciated, of course, especially from a hugely respected coaching peer. But Corbin is a pair. Mighty Vanderbilt or not, Tennessee intended to win this series and were angry when they didn’t and would approach a rematch in Omaha the same way.
You know what I mean?
Can you believe the Vols hardly hired this guy?
Former athletic director John Currie deserves credit for hiring Vitello, an Arkansas assistant and former Missouri player who had never been a college head coach.
But he would deserve more credit if Vitello had really been his first choice. Weird now to note that South Alabama coach Mark Calvi told AL.com at the time that he had been offered and refused the position in Tennessee: “I don’t jump on anything.
But it was fair. It showed how bad Tennessee baseball was just a few years ago.
Vitello jumped at the chance, however. In Currie’s defense, there was only one reason to think Vitello would fare better in Knoxville than his predecessors Todd Raleigh and Dave Serrano – and it was because of the recruiter’s strength that he was meant to be.
It’s easy to assume that what has happened since has been all about recruiting and talent on the pitch. Vitello himself said on Thursday he would have expected that too up front. But looking back, “I don’t know it’s been the # 1 thing for us. I think it’s the people who work around our players.
He means Tennessee staff members, including some he inherited.
“It kind of became our niche,” Vitello told me. “I hate trying to recruit you, but it’s a people-driven program. As the facility improves, maybe our tradition grows stronger. If we can continue to be successful, these will be things or flags that we can hoist high.
“But right now, I think the flag that we carry the highest and that is the most crucial is just the people thing, the relationship agreement.”
He’s really recruiting us all, you know – you, me, his players, Vol Nation, everyone. And so far you have to say Tony Vitello is doing a great job.
Impressed ? How not to be ?
Better yet … Not having fun?
Contact Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.